More than a decade before sharpshooter Annie Oakley joined Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West, dancer Giuseppina Morlacchi garnered headlines performing with Cody in the traveling Western stage drama Scouts of the Prairie. Dime novelist and entrepreneur Ned Buntline, who hastily wrote the three-act Western script in December 1872, had the Italian-born prima ballerina play an Indian princess named Dove Eye. The male stars of Buntline’s theatrical company were Cody and John Baker “Texas Jack” Omohundro, notable Army scouts who played themselves onstage. Landing Morlacchi was quite a coup for Buntline. Since making her U.S. debut in New York City in 1867, she had become the most sought-after dancer in the country, introduced the can-can to American audiences and earned the nickname “The Peerless.”
Photo collector Tony Sapienza said that when graceful Giuseppina performed the “grand gallop can-can” on Jan. 6, 1868, in Boston, where this photograph was taken, her interpretation of the high-stepping dance left the audience breathless. In Scouts of the Prairie she not only remembered her lines better than her co-stars, but also found romance with one of them. On Aug. 31, 1873, she married Omohundro at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Rochester, N.Y. Morlacchi continued to perform with her dance troupe and star with her husband in Western dramas. But tragedy was to strike the young couple when 33-year-old Texas Jack died of pneumonia in Leadville, Colo., on June 28, 1880. With that Morlacchi stopped touring. A scant six years later, on July 23, 1886, she died of cancer at age 49 in Billerica, Mass.
(For more on both Omohundro and Morlacchi, see Matthew Kerns’ Wild West feature article.)